The Daily Tar Heel

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Sunday January 17th

Students petition University to extend pass/fail declaration for fall semester

A student studies at the outdoor study space on the quad on Monday, Oct. 5, 2020.
Buy Photos A student studies at the outdoor study space on the quad on Monday, Oct. 5, 2020.

As the end of the fall semester approaches, UNC students must decide whether or not to declare their courses pass/fail by Nov. 17 — the last day of class. 

A petition circulating on social media is calling on the UNC administration to push back the pass/fail deadline until after students receive their final course grades and to reconsider the low pass policy. 

In August, the University expanded the pass/fail option for all fall 2020 undergraduate courses. Unlike the pass/fail policy offered during spring 2020, students opting to pass/fail this semester will receive a “low pass” if they earn a letter grade of C-, D+ or D in that course — a grade that cannot be used for graduation requirements. But in a petition, signed by over 6,000 people, students have expressed the need for more time to make the decision. 

Sophomore Abigail Whittington wrote and posted the petition on Nov. 1 about the policy to catch UNC’s attention. She explained that the pandemic, the election, the shortened semester, grade books that have not been updated and online classes are all contributing stressors for students. She hopes altering the policy could aid the mental health of all students. 

On Monday, she emailed the petition to Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz, Provost Bob Blouin and the Office of the Dean of Students. 

“As students, we’re at a completely different level of stress and anxiety this finals season,” Whittington said. “It’s unacceptable to assume that we can just predict how well we’re going to do on our finals.”

The Office of the Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost responded to Whittington Tuesday evening. 

“I’m writing to let you know that the deadline remains at 11/17/20, the last day of classes,” Associate Provost for Strategy and Special Projects Debbi Clarke said in an email to Whittington.

So far, over 80 people have commented on the petition, including senior Pavan Chaudhari. 

“I just cannot handle all the work right now, and the stress makes me ball up and cry," Chaudhari wrote in the comment. "Without rewards like vacations, breaks or just long weekends, we don’t have anything." 

Chaudhari told The Daily Tar Heel that a later pass/fail deadline would help relieve some of the stress that’s been building up all semester. 

When junior Hannah Hartsgrove first saw the petition, she said she did not know that the pass/fail deadline was before finals. She said she assumed the process would be like last semester. 

“I have a lot of assignments due on LDOC that are worth like 40 percent of my grade,” Hartsgrove said. “I’m not even going to know anywhere close to what my grade is before LDOC in those classes.” 

Hartsgrove said she does not think the current policy will adequately account for all of the hardships that students face, so she signed the petition with the hope that pushing back the deadline would help her, and other students, make more informed decisions while deciding whether or not to pass/fail any courses. 

UNC biology professor Mark Peifer expressed his disappointment about the new policy on Twitter in August, and later suggested that Dec. 20 may be a better deadline to declare a course pass/fail this semester. 

“I thought the approach we took in the Spring was the right one — extend the deadline for choosing P/F until after the semester is over and grades are posted,” Peifer said in an email to the DTH. “It’s not something I’d advocate in a normal semester, but this is far from a normal semester and students are facing unprecedented challenges.”

In an email to the DTH, University spokesperson Leslie Minton said the provost appreciates the challenges created for students by the pandemic and condensed semester.

"Working with campus academic leaders, faculty and students, the Provost earlier this semester announced a range of grading accommodations for the fall 2020 semester, including removal of withdrawal notations on transcripts and grading options of pass, low pass, fail and CV, which addresses accessibility and equity issues for students affected by the pandemic," Minton said in the email.

Whittington said people's response to the petition surpassed her expectations — and confirmed that she isn’t the only one with concerns. Her email crashed yesterday because so many people contacted her to show support, she said. 

“I believe in full confidence that the administration is trying to do the best for everyone, but unfortunately, what they have put in place so far is not enough,” Whittington said. 


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